Got It Covered: “Paper Planes” (M.I.A. vs. The Clientele)

The best cover songs put a new spin on a song without rendering it entirely unrecognizable. Sometimes they are better than the original, sometimes not — while covering a song invites comparison, why not enjoy both?Here’s a song for you to consider from angles both recognizable and unfamiliar.

Now hold up a minute. I know that to mention M.I.A. — especially on the wide world of the internet — is to provoke an immediate war of opinions  Her music and her public persona (ahem) are polarizing: She’s either avant-garde or an annoyance. However, I propose a compromise in the form of a cover song that replaces M.I.A.’s boldness with an otherworldly vibe.

Those who find M.I.A.’s music to be unpalatable are invited to skip the following video. The rest of you: For purposes of comparison, here is the track “Paper Planes” from her 2007 release Kala. It is highly likely that you have heard it before, as it received heavy airplay in addition to appearing in the film Slumdog Millionaire.  Classic rock fans haunted by a sense of familiarity might also identify the sample from The Clash’s song “Straight to Hell.”

As a part of the A.V. Club’s “Undercover” series, British band The Clientele opted to cover “Paper Planes.”  The ethereal, somewhat breathy music of The Clientele makes this an odd choice, and the diversity of styles produces a truly strange cover song. M.I.A.’s gunshot and cash register sound effects are replaced by tambourine and xylophone hits, while The Clash sample is transformed into a fluttering violin intro.

In this reimagining of “Paper Planes,” what was formerly a gunshot-riddled, hip hop-inflected jam becomes sunny and slightly psychedelic. Whether you love the original or took pleasure in skipping it in the section above, The Clientele’s cover takes it in an unexpected direction. The best part is that instead of forcing you to choose between two like versions of the song, the cover builds upon the original to create an entirely new experience.